“As California particularly, but also many other states, clamped down on pill mills, and begin to use prescription-drug monitoring programs, OxyContin and others became less available, or, if they were available, there were more expensive, and then people moved to heroin.”
~Gil Kerlikowske, Commissioner of the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency and former Director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have declared that prescription opioid painkiller abuse has reached epidemic levels in the United States. In response, lawmakers have responded with such proactive and effective measures as prescriber databases and drug take-back days. In San Diego, there was a 6% decline in accidental prescription drug overdoses last year, compared to 2013.
There have been unintended consequences, however.
The efforts to curtail prescription painkiller abuse have made the medications both harder to get and more expensive. In response, many opiate addicts are turning to cheaper, readily-available heroin.
Oxycodone may cost an opiate addict up to $80 a pill, while heroin can be had for as little as $10.
In San Diego, 2014 heroin deaths increased by 22% over 2013 and 34% over 2010. 28% of San Diego adults entering drug rehab in 2014 reported that heroin was their drug of choice. Overall, experts say that heroin use in San Diego County is at its highest rate in 15 years.
This is a nationwide problem, but in San Diego the problem is especially worrisome. The U.S. Customs and Border Protection busiest crossing for passenger vehicles and pedestrians is just south of San Diego, and Mexican drug cartels are taking notice of the increased US demand for heroin.
Because of the increasingly-legal status of cannabis in the US, the flow of marijuana from south of the border has decreased significantly.
American users of legal marijuana have shown a marked preference for the superior quality of domestic strains. Already, seizures along the Mexican border have fallen 37% since 2011. As a response, more Mexican drug growers are switching to opium poppies.
In 2014, law enforcement agencies in the United States seized triple the amount of heroin confiscated in 2009.
Raul Benitez-Manaut, an expert on the drug war at Mexico’s National Autonomous University, says, “Legalization of marijuana for recreational use has given US consumers access to high-quality marijuana… That’s why the Mexican cartels are switching to heroin and meth.”
Frightening Statistics about Heroin Abuse and Overdose in San Diego
- Heroin and prescription opioid painkillers are among the top drug threats in the United States, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency’s 2015 National Drug Threat Assessment
- According to the San Diego Association of governments, there are up to 50,000 people in North San Diego County who are dependent upon opiates.
- Between 2013-2014, the availability of heroin in America has increased by approximately 50%
- Approximately 8600 Americans died in 2013 of heroin overdoses
- That is nearly triple the heroin deaths that occurred in 2010
- Between 2009-2013, heroin overdose deaths in San Diego County rose by 18%
- Heroin is the most-frequent cause of accidental overdoses for San Diegans between the ages of 20-29
- After a four-month mission, April through July of this year, the Coast Guard cutter Stratton, returned home to the US Naval Base in San Diego having seized $1 BILLION worth of cocaine and heroin – the largest haul ever for a single Coast Guard mission
- DEA arrests for heroin doubled between 2007-2014
- In 2014, DEA arrests for heroin surpassed marijuana arrests for the first time
- The San Diego Association of Governments reports that 13% of men and 15% of women who were arrested in 2014 in San Diego County tested positive for heroin. In 2002, the rate was only 5%.
- 72 % of San Diego County arrestees who tested positive for opiates reported that they used prescription drugs before they tried heroin.
- 88% said that they substituted heroin for prescription opioids because it was easier to acquire and less expensive.
- In San Diego, women arrestees use heroin nearly twice as often as men –3 times per week versus 8.7.
- Men are four times as likely to overdose on heroin as women.
- The racial breakdown of San Diego arrestees who were heroin users in 2014 is – 20% white, 9% Hispanic, and 6% black.
- Non-Hispanic white people between the ages of 18-44 have the highest rate of overdose
- 51% of San Diego arrestees who use opiates have overdosed in the past, compared to just 13% of arrestees who don’t use opiates.
Over 300 San Diegans died in 2014 because of heroin overdoses. This is why last July, the San Diego Sheriff’s Department became the first law enforcement agency in California to carry the life-saving medication naloxone, an antidote designed to save lives by preventing opiate overdoses.
A DEA agent, speaking on condition of anonymity, said, “These are educated, bright, achieving children who will never knowingly choose to buy heroin. But they needed the high. And when the withdrawals would set in, it would take anything to suppress their withdrawals. From there, kids just started skipping the pills and taking heroin, because it became a normalized thing.”